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Prog Brain Res. 1998;118:101-14.

Nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in visual system development.

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Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139, USA.


The lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) of the ferret is characterized by the readily discernible anatomical patterning of afferent terminations from the retina into both eye-specific layers and On/Off sublaminae. The eye-specific layers form during the first post-natal week, and On/Off sublaminae become apparent during the third to fourth post-natal weeks. The post-natal appearance of these patterns thus provides an advantageous model for the study of the mechanisms of activity-dependent development. The second phase of pattern formation, the appearance of On/Off sublaminae, involves the elaboration of appropriately placed axonal terminals and the restriction (or retraction) of inappropriately placed terminals. Previous work has demonstrated that this process is dependent on the activation of NMDA-receptors. Other studies have provided strong evidence that nitric oxide, a diffusible gas which is produced downstream of NMDA-receptor activation, acts as a retrograde messenger molecule to induce changes in pre-synaptic structures. In this article we review the evidence that nitric oxide plays a role in activity-dependent synaptic plasticity in the developing retinogeniculate pathway. The role of nitric oxide in other aspects of visual system development is also discussed.

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